Closure Near, ACRC Loses Money – December 26, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – The Arcata Community Recycling Center (ACRC) has lost recyclables from the greater Arcata area as the county will send them elsewhere in anticipation of ACRC’s self-announced mid-January closure.

Despite the Humboldt Waste Management Authority’s effort to negotiate “continued operation” of ACRC’s Samoa processing facility, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted at its Dec. 13 meeting to cease using it for recyclables collected from the unincorporated areas surrounding Arcata.

A written staff report from county Director of Public Works Tom Mattson names ACRC’s “impending closure” as the reason.

Instead, the materials will go to Solid Waste of Willits, the company that recently bested ACRC in a Humboldt Waste Management Authority (HWMA) bidding process, effective Jan. 16. The loss of recyclables from HWMA member city Eureka and other areas of the county has been cited by ACRC as the primary reason for its expected closure.

Another action was taken by supervisors last week that affects ACRC as well as HWMA’s long-range plan for a regional approach to recycling. A majority of supervisors approved a new 20-year contract with the Humboldt Sanitation company for collecting and processing solid waste and recyclables collected in the McKinleyville area.

Two issues related to ACRC’s struggles and the HWMA’s long range plans were raised: the length of the contract and its commitment of flow control – the ability to direct where recyclables are processed – to Humboldt Sanitation.

The HWMA is a joint powers authority made up of the county and cities. Supervisor Jimmy Smith asked Mattson about the county’s role in a regional agency.

The county has been contracting with Humboldt Sanitation since 1982 and Mattson said continuing to do so doesn’t violate the county’s agreements with HWMA. He added, “I think one of the things that’s floating out there in the community is, ‘What’s going to happen to the ACRC facility.”

The Samoa facility was designed to serve the entire county and Mattson described it as “a very large facility that does require a large amount of materials to make it run efficiently.” If the county maintains flow control in the McKinleyville area and the HWMA gains ownership of the Samoa facility, recyclables could be directed there.

“But we don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Mattson told supervisors.

Board Chairman Mark Lovelace, the county’s HWMA alternate representative, said a 20-year contract with flow control is too much to give to Humboldt Sanitation when ACRC is struggling and the HWMA is moving toward buying its facility.

“As the alternate representative to HWMA, I’m not able to make that kind of commitment because I think it goes against the discussions we’re having in every other area of this issue,” Lovelace said.

But a public comment session included lots of support for Humboldt Sanitation and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, whose district includes McKinleyville, backed it up. The company’s representatives said they could accept a contract without flow control and Supervisor Virginia Bass said she’d vote for the contract if it didn’t include it.

But Sundberg declined to compromise and his motion to approve a 20-year contract with flow control to Humboldt Sanitation was approved. Bass, the county’s main HWMA representative, and Lovelace were the minority in the 3-2 vote. The county aims to start curbside recycling pick-up in McKinleyville at the start of 2013.

In an interview, HWMA Executive Director Jim Test, who will retire at the end of the month, was asked about the impact of the decision. While he said that there’s been a long-running discussion about regionalization and “from Eureka north is what the discussion has been about,” the prospect of buying the Samoa facility remains viable.

“The question is, can you still make Samoa operate given the limited number of tons (of recyclables) available – and the answer is yes,” he said, explaining that the facility could serve the greater Humboldt Bay area.

At its Dec. 8 meeting – the last one of 2011 – the HWMA’s board of directors went into closed session and emerged without an agreement with ACRC. Asked whether the fast-approaching mid-January closure date is still on the table, Milt Boyd, the chairman of ACRC’s board of directors, said that it is.

Asked about the supervisors’ actions, Boyd said, “It brings up the question of how many companies can split up the recycling in Humboldt County and I think that’s an issue the HWMA is going to have to contend with.”

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